The secret to solving a lot of relationship problems is as easy as doing the right thing.  When I suggest this to my clients, they often reply “oh yeah, fake it until you make it, right.”  The idea being that you do what you are “supposed” to do to make a marriage work, even if you don’t feel it, and over time the relationship will get better on its own because you’re doing the right things.

Well, sort of.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but before I explain the complexity of faking it until you make it, first let me tell me why I don’t like the phrase.  Aside from the fact that the phrase oversimplifies the actual process, the work “fake” is really what I have a problem with.  The word conveys insincerity, compliance with something that you don’t feel is right, a lack of effective communication, etc., etc., etc.  It implies that doing the right thing when you don’t feel like doing it is somehow a bad thing – something that weak people do when they’re desperate.  It’s like letting a bully push you around.  But if you care about your relationship, or if you ever care to have a functional relationship with anyone, let me suggest that you consider another side of the argument.

You should not pretend to be passionate about your spouse when you are not actually passionate about him or her.  That would be fake.  You should not pretend to like sex when you don’t.  That would be fake, too.  Here is what you should do.  It is a variation of faking it, but without the fake part.  If you don’t feel passionate about your partner, that doesn’t mean that you can’t hold his or her hand.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t spend quality time with them.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t be nice.  So what about sex?  What if you don’t want to have sex at all, and your spouse wants you to not only have sex with him or her, but to also do it with glee.  You have a couple of options.

If the idea of sex with your partner disgusts you, forcing yourself to do it might actually make the situation worse for them – by making you hate sex even more.  People in this position can probably benefit from marriage counseling more than anybody, because this is the kind of tough situation that few couples can crawl out of on their own.

If you’re willing to have sex, but you just don’t look forward to it and it doesn’t excite you, having sex with your partner would only be considered “faking” it if you pretended to like it more than you do, which is fine if that is what you choose.  But making your spouse happy should not be considered fake because that makes it sound like it’s a bad thing.  Don’t fake it.  Do what you’re comfortable with.  Think of it as being real.  And be proud that you tried.  You don’t have to scream in ecstasy.  But you also don’t need to sabotage positive experiences with your partner.  If you’re walking down the street holding hands, you don’t have to complain about it while it’s happening.  Resisting impulses to destroy a positive experience out of anger or frustration does not equate to faking anything.  It’s the right thing to do, and you can only benefit from it.

When you do the right thing in your relationship, it also takes your partner recognizing the changes that you are making, and being motivated and able to make changes to their behavior as a result.  Missing this part of the equation is probably why some (or all) of your past attempts to do the right thing have not worked the way you thought that they might.  But it often doesn’t happen until the changes that you are making have had time to set in and convince your partner that you will stick to them, which ideally leads to them having a new and more positive opinion of you and what you are likely to do in the future.  So it is their responsibility to pay attention to the changes that you are making, no matter how small they are.  And to not minimize, disregard, or explain them away.  And one more thing.  They cannot take advantage of the changes that you are making – like when they expect more and more changes from you without giving anything back.  But remember, this is not a quid-pro-quo.  You do the right things because they are the right things – not because you want something in return.  That would be fake.